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Vikings S Harrison Smith
Another obvious choice for this list, but when you are a first-round draft pick nowadays, you are expected to make immediate impacts.
Smith looks to improve upon a disastrous secondary from a year ago. Despite leading the league in sacks with 50, the Vikings finished 26th in pass yards allowed, 32nd in opponent quarterback rating, 31st in points allowed and tied for last with only eight interceptions on the year (via NFL.com).
Introducing a smart and talented safety to the starting lineup can only improve on those numbers.
Smith was a four-year starter for Notre Dame, and he was a versatile player for them. Playing both linebacker and safety, he showed a natural football intellect that most players can only dream of. He used that instinct to become a reliable and steady player for the Irish.
Finishing his career with 309 tackles, 3.5 sacks, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, he proved he could do everything a safety should do against talented competition.
What Smith lacks in speed, (he posted a 4.57 in the 40-yard dash at the combine) he makes up for with strength, smarts, and consistency.
Starting at linebacker shows that he is more than strong enough to stick against the big tight ends in the NFL nowadays.
He was a team captain at Notre Dame, which means he could provide leadership that the safety position has lacked since the departure of Darren Sharper.
And while seven interceptions over four years doesn’t seem like much, it is worth noting that they were all during his junior year, which to me shows that if he is allowed to be a playmaker, he can excel at it.
He can change his style of play to fit what the team needs him to do, which makes him all the more valuable for the Vikings. Even if he doesn’t post the numbers, look for Smith to improve the secondary’s overall play next season.